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Women's 4 x 100m Relay PREVIEW

The USA lead this year’s world list with 41.67 and, as usual, will start as favourites. Before Sydney, USA had won every Olympic final since Evelyn Ashford brought the baton home in Los Angeles in 1984.

But the spell was broken in 2000 when the slick passing of the Bahamas quartet showed up the Americans’ faltering technique. Marion Jones did her best on the final leg but could only bring her team a bronze, beaten to the line by Jamaica’s Merlene Ottey.

The US returned to winning ways at the Edmonton World championships but last summer fell victim to the glorious French foursome who rounded off the Paris World Champs with a spectacular win. In the event, Christine Arron’s flying final leg brought the baton home in 41.78, a time which only the USA, Russia and East Germany have ever beaten.

Expect France to be serious challengers again. With 42.41 this year, they are already the second quickest team, and most of last year’s gold medal winners – Patricia Girard, Muriel Hurtis, Sylviane Felix and Arron – will be in Athens.

Russia was third in Paris, and is also third quickest of this year, with 42.93. With the likes of Yuliya Tabakova, Irina Khabarova, Olga Fyodorova and Larisa Kruglova in their line up they’ll be hard to beat.

Jamaica, who dropped the baton in Paris, and reigning champions Bahamas, will also be in the hunt. World finallists Ukraine, Germany, Belarus and Belgium are other likely teams.

And don’t overlook the hosts. Greece may not have the fastest individual sprinters but this is a relay, and with the crowd behind them, anything could happen.

MB